Interview with 2022 Mandorla major winner

2 August, 2022

Chalice – A Lightness of Being

Sylvia Grevel interviews Claire Beausein

In between Broome and country Victoria, Mandorla Committee Member Sylvia Grevel interviews Claire Beausein in Fremantle. She has just won the 2022 Mandorla Art Award.

Claire shares her background: “I am from a family of French lace workers, who immigrated to London to do their lace making until the Industrial Revolution. They were very poor, and as a result, many generations ago, they came to Australia to look for a better life. My love for textiles could indeed be something genetic. My grandmother did a lot of fine stitchwork, up until her nineties – she was very creative.”

Claire grew up on a farm, in Victoria, next to a National Park. “We had no neighbours, so there was kind of nothing. No children to play with so I went off into the bush, looked at things, and became very close to nature. It is in my nature to be more of an introvert and an observer. I’ve also always been artistic, love to use my hands, always doing anything with my hands. I was free to roam around, and look. I have always been interested in nuances, also of what is hidden, under rocks for example. The only danger was the snakes.”


Sylvia G.: “You won the 2022 Mandorla Art Award. What does it mean to you?”

Claire B.: “It is such an acknowledgement after all the work I have done over the years. My work is very subtle and working with textures is against what people generally like. They like more bold colors and bold forms. My work, in contrast, is very intimate and textural, more about fine nuance. It has been a journey to get acknowledged. This is the peak of what I could have hoped for (I also hope for my work to have more acknowledgement in time… greedy though it is!).”

“Being in West Australia, and living in Broome, it is very hard to get this kind of acknowledgement. I have been fortunate to have Linton & Kay Galleries to support me. Especially when they supported my three-month residency in Basel in a paper mill, and in the history museum, which resulted in a mid-career fellowship. This was the start of being acknowledged beyond Broome.”

“When I started focussing on paper as my main medium, I learned paper making at this mill. I wanted to learn to work with it as a textural form. They taught me how to make it traditionally. The textural paper making inspired me to move on very quickly to making other kinds of textures, from rags (traditional European paper is called cotton rag and is made from cotton rags). I have pushed that as far as I could go over the following years.”

“It also made me very interested in washi paper; this is Japanese paper. This paper is much finer, stronger, and translucent. It gives me the possibility of again, getting different results. After Basel, I did a residency in Japan. This was, also again, a spiritual journey. I studied Shinto spirituality while I was there: visiting shrines and talking with monks. It was fascinating and resonated with me very much, my upbringing, and being at one with nature. It also taught me all sorts of ancient techniques with indigo dye, bookbinding, and ink – all different techniques relating to paper. It gave wonderful coincidental results. And I stitched over the top, with my degree in textiles coming more and more into the fore.”

“My art practice has been ongoing since my art degree in textiles in the eighties. It has been interrupted of course by the need to earn money and building my house in Broome. It has always been important for me to keep my art ‘pure’. To not let it be corrupted by working in the ‘wrong’ environment.”

“In 1991 I went to Broome to live. First, I saw this Boab tree. There is where I wanted to build a house. The tree came first. The landscape is so wonderful. Everywhere you look, there is rocks and an open and clean environment, which has slightly changed since unfortunately.”

“I needed to go back to Victoria to see and help my aging parents on the farm regularly. They have since passed away. Now I live in between the two places. The landscape of Broome has become part of me. I’ve lived there full time for twenty-five years.”

Sylvia G.: “The theme of the Mandorla Art Award was Metamorphosis. What has transformed you, living in Broome?”

Claire B.: “Building a house in Broome, moving with the seasons is an exercise in endurance, but also very satisfying. Also, for the first time I became part of a community. I had gone straight from the farm to the Art College in Sydney, and then to Broome. I was accepted in the Aboriginal community, but you never really become a part of it though, but that is fine.”

“About my artworks. People often don’t spend enough time with my artworks. They give a glance and then move on. But if you look up closely, my works can reflect sand dunes seen from up high from the sky. Or water with shells at the bottom. I love microcosms and macrocosm patterns that come from the universe to the miniscule. I have always used that in my work.”

Sylvia G.: “Is that also a reflection of your spirituality. You talk about macro-and microcosm, and the connection between the two?”

Claire B.: “Yes, I think so. I became interested in Buddhism in my twenties. I wouldn’t call myself of any religion. I can see that they are all linked. You could say they’re all just different expressions of the same thing.”

“I have always found it interesting that there is this repetition of patterns on all different levels – a sacred geometry – that’s the rule, it doesn’t matter where you are. It’s expressed in different ways. The interesting question of course is why we find these patterns so beautiful – like the bark and shades on a gum tree. It speaks of more than a physical thing. It’s like they’re beings in themselves. They are communicating something to be more than just a tree. For me, they are communicating that we are not just living in a physical world. There is more going on. There are layers and layers and layers, that we may, or not may be able to perceive. The more we become in touch with that, the more we can perceive that nature can communicate with us. Nature is in metamorphosis all the time. It moves from one to the other all the time, and I am always working with that.”

“This year’s Mandorla Art Award was a fantastic topic to get my teeth in. The silk cocoons were an ideal medium. It was a new medium for me. I had to learn how to work with them and work out how to make them ‘sing’ and express themselves. “

“There are so many layers to the work. It was extremely time consuming. I washed every cocoon and cleaned it and pressed it and formed it and stitched the cocoons together. There were over 600 of them, and I did many more just to get a colour variation. I didn’t colour them at all – they are all natural colours. These are wild ones from the bush in Indonesia. The worms leave the cocoons in a sort of boat shape when they leave the cocoon behind. People go around and pick them from their gardens. I wanted to show their beauty on a large scale, and keep the translucency and the light and the colours. It needed a certain scale, and it became bigger and bigger.”

“As I worked with them all sorts of things came to mind, but also about a chalice and life. There was a miracle going on inside these cocoons. And it occurred to me that they were like the fabric of the stars of the universe, like stars exploding, forming new elements and we are also made of those complex elements. I contemplated all this while I was working on it, all those long hours. And then close to the end, because I knew I had to elevate it to make it float, like a veil, I had these museum pins from Basel. It was a Eureka moment. The pins are used in the natural museum to pin moths for display, they also refer to our lives, and our journeys. A reference that came to mind while I was making it was the Shroud of Turin. How within that shroud there was a metamorphosis going on as well of course. This was another layer of metamorphosis – the death of someone. We all go through little deaths – the end of a relationship, our parents dying, these make a change within us. We shed that skin and move on with our next stage in life.”

“As you move looking at the work, the shadows move as well. The light makes it move, so it is not a fixed thing. It embodies total connectedness – the micro and macro coming together. For me, it is also about a lightness of being. This is what I think of when thinking about spirituality – the moth leaving behind this little house.”

“All this is very hard to talk about. We have no real language for it. Spirituality is ephemeral. For me the cocoon is like a chalice. It is silk, but it looks like pure gold, like a chalice. It is just such a gorgeous thing. The miracle of transformation is happening inside, like the miracle of Christ’s transformation, when the wine becomes His blood. And the universe is a huge chalice. The word seems to embody everything I was trying to express.”

Sylvia G.: “A bit like a cosmic eucharist?!”

Claire B. laughs: “Yes, could be. Also, a bit like the fabric of the universe. We can’t really understand it. And yet, it is there, and we are it. The mystery of creation. All these little cocoons are each a chalice. Together they form a visual chalice. I hope that in viewing it, it resonates with people. ”

Sylvia G.: “For me the work is a piece of serenity and contemplation.”

Claire B.: “Well, I’m quite a nervous person really, and maybe my work calms me down, but often people do tell me my work calms them down. Maybe I can communicate what I get from nature, this serenity. You know, in my artwork it is really tempting to go down the road of ‘the bold and bright’. And if I would have done that, maybe I would have been more successful much earlier, but it’s just not me. And I had to be true to myself and make the subtle and the fine and the gentle works that have often been passed by. For the Mandorla, the work has been judged by spiritual people who perceive and look beyond the bright and bold to beauty and delicacy and the language of that.”

Sylvia G.: “I can see and hear that you have devoted your life to creating art and being in nature.”

Claire B.: “I try to speak and communicate about nature – about my perception of nature and that it has some other meaning that maybe is communicated and can be picked up from my work. And I have stayed true to that. Being popular is not what matters in the end. It’s your path that does.”

Sylvia G.: “What advice would you give young artists?”

Claire B.: “Observe yourself and what you want to communicate. Don’t be diverted by the latest trend. Stick to what resonates with you because that is where you will be successful, because you have stayed true to yourself. I have found as a child that the connection with nature was a spiritual connection. Once you’ve got that tradition it stays with you. I have always come back to it and create true art.”